Titan in the Playground
Re: The Return of the Scarlet Empress OOC
This is not a character sheet. Pay no attention to that Sidereal behind the curtain!
Isa, the Old Man's Shadow (formerly of the Birch River Clan)
Chosen of Endings
A dim violet glow suffuses the air, soft and peaceful
See that her mentor dies at peace
Life in Heaven
Out in the forest, a woman (girl?) is digging graves.
She is brown-skinned, and dark-haired, and not very tall. She's pretty, in the same way that dirt is pretty: that is to say, not eye-catching, or pretty at all, really but still pleasant to look at if you are not too snobbish or cultured to appreciate it. Her hands are callused. Her arms are strong.
kcchhhh, kcchhhh, kccchhhhh, goes the shovel, and then kcCHNNK—the sound of metal against stone.
She puts down her shovel (an old square-bladed thing that once belonged to a legionnaire) and kneels down by the hole. With one hand she reaches in, feeling around in the dirt, and: yes, there's a rock here. Maybe a big one. She might have to start over. She stands and starts to dig again, scraping the dirt off the top and then digging down around the sides so she can see it better. Today she is lucky—it's not so big after all. She kneels again and pries it out with both hands, sets it next to the pile of dirt she's making. Later today she'll carry it to one of the cairns she is making.
kcchhhh, kcchhhh, goes the shovel. The sun climbs higher in the sky, watching.
I don't know why they argued. I was little back then: two, four, six, eight—but not ten. My mother was dead before I was ten, and afterwards how could anyone argue with her? My father would never say what they fought about; he didn't like to speak ill of the dead.
He didn't talk about her much.
My aunts and uncles and cousins talked about them all the time. (Not really my aunts and uncles and cousins, you understand; that's just what you call people in your boat clan. The elders are grandmothers and grandfathers, the adults are aunts and uncles, and everyone your age who's not actually your brother or sister is a cousin. Everyone is family, even half-blood girls with no father.) They told me my mother was a brave warrior, and had died a fine death against the Haltans. They wanted me to grow up to be just like her.
("What, dead?" I never actually said that; even when I was nine I knew there were some things you didn't say. But I thought it. Why do you want me to grow up and die in the Haltan forests, family mine? What is so sacred about blood spilled beneath the redwood trees?)
On my father the clan was less united. He was a warrior too, but not from Linowan. He was a soldier from the Scarlet Empire over the sea, here to help us face our enemies. They never went on raids, though; only manned the border forts. Some people thought he was a coward, though they rarely came out and said so. (Insulting someone's bravery is a serious thing with us. You do not do it unless you are looking for a fight.) Others said he was a fine fighter, but he didn't really understand us. He was a stranger.
Whenever they said that, I thought: I must be like him. Because I do not understand you either.
A cold wind whips through the woman's hair, whispering faintly in her ear. She can almost imagine that it has a voice, that she can hear the dead speaking. Maybe she can. This is Calibration: the sun is reddish and hot, the wind is bitter cold with the promise of winter to come, and the barriers between worlds are thin. Maybe the dead can speak to her.
Heaven knows there are dead aplenty here.
All around her there are bones: icewalker bones, tribal bones, men and women, Haltan and Linowan and Ardelese and Talinin and a dozen more, all scattered together with no care for what separated them in life; but most of all legionnaire bones, still wrapped in the rusted metal bands of their armor. They are old bones. Many are blackened by fire. Others are white and cracked with age. There is grass growing up through them. In another decade, maybe two, the earth will start to reclaim them.
Which is good, she thinks. There are far too many for one woman to bury.
Nobody comes here since that day five years ago, not even to loot the fallen. (Well, hardly ever.) The beasts won't touch the bodies. The place is not quite a shadowlands, but it is something very close. A forbidden place. Taboo.
Hardly anyone comes here.
But it is Calibration, and barriers are broken.
There is a man walking through the burnt trees.
It's not so bad, being a gravedigger. You'll always have work.
(It's all right to make jokes like that as long as you don't laugh at them. The dead don't mind smiles, but they can't stand to be laughed at.)
Why did I do it? I don't know. It was just something that needed to be done. After the battle…
I wasn't in the war, you understand. Not properly. I fought the Haltans and the icemen for three years with the rest of my people, but I wasn't there for the end of it. I could see it, though. Everybody for a hundred miles could see it. Blazing sunlight, and terrible fire, and by the end miles and miles of forest scorched and twisted and burnt; and all the brave men and women the Scarlet Empire sent to fight alongside us were scorched and twisted and burnt along with it. Crushed beneath the Bull's fiery hooves.
Not my father. He was very lucky. I don't think he felt lucky, though; when I saw him afterwards he looked like he wished he had died. He was going home, and wanted to say goodbye.
Actually, what he really wanted was for me to go with him.
Maybe I should have. He needed me, I think, or needed somebody. And there wasn't much left for me among my own people, who love war. (Though they do not love losing, so we shared that grief at least.) But I didn't feel like I belonged with him. I love my father, but I have had enough of being a warrior's bastard daughter in a land that isn't my own.
So I walked away.
I started burying the dead.
Somebody ought to do it, you know? And it kept my hands busy. I needed that.
I dug. Day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year, digging rows of graves that meandered through the charred trees down the banks of the river. It's good work. Simple, but… clean, is the only word I can think of. Honest. It turns out I actually like working with the earth, and being alone in the forest, and even the dead are sort of comfortable after a while. I didn't know how long I was going to keep at it—the tribes said there were more than twenty thousand, I never dreamed I'd finish—but I didn't wake up wanting to stop.
People noticed, after a while. My family came looking for me, and when they couldn't convince me to go with them, they left some food to make it easier. Maybe they spread the word, I don't know. Boats occasionally stopped when they passed by my part of the river, and left gifts at the door to my little hut: food, new blankets or clothing for the winter, offerings for the dead. They weren't all Linowan, either; I recognized death-offerings from Bloody River, Talinin, Jarrith, the Shandir wood-tribes. Even Halta. People knew about the hermit in the woods who buries the dead.
I couldn't tell who to give the offerings to, of course. The bones are all tangled till I can't even tell which bones belong together, much less what tribe they came from or whose kin they were. But you know, if the dead can share graves (and they do), they can share offerings too. It's better than nothing at all.
The man is old, maybe forty or fifty winters, with leathery skin and a face like an old cliff: craggy, tough, but a little worn away. There's a walking-stick in his hands, though he doesn't seem to need it very badly. He has green eyes. The woman leans on her shovel, watching him approach.
He stops and watches her back for a little while, and then he says her name. It's not a question.
"You've been burying the dead for five years and five days." Also not a question. He's right, too, she realizes; down to the day. She nods again.
"It's time to go," he says simply. And, somehow, she senses that this is true. She was drawn here after the battle, and now she is drawn away.
"You could stay the night," she suggests, and wonders if she means to bed him. (Maybe. He's older than her, but that doesn't matter much; she doesn't get visitors very often, and it's good to feel alive when you spend so much time among the dead.) "The dead won't bother us as long as we keep inside." Truth. She has earned that much gratitude, even from the wild and lonely spirits that roam abroad on Calibration.
But the man is shaking his head sternly. "Better not to. We have a great deal to do, and not enough time to do it in. The Calibration Gate is close to here; if we hurry we can reach it before sundown."
"Where are we going?" she asks, a little dazed at the speed. She won't even get to say goodbye to the hut she's slept in for five years.
"Everything," says the green-eyed man, not unkindly, "will be revealed in time."
He holds out one hand, beckoning. She takes one last look at the forest, the dead she's buried and the dead she hasn't. It's not enough, but she could spend a whole life here and not do enough. There's always an ending.
There are two people who have undeniably shaped Isa's life in Yu-Shan to date.
The first is the former bearer of her Exaltation, a Reckoner named Before-the-Dawn. An ardent member of the Bronze Faction, she co-led the efforts to halt the Bull of the North when he battled the Tepet legions; when all was said and done, her partner was dead in battle, leaving her to take sole responsibility for the destruction of Fallen Lapis and the death of its city father (among other things). She was tried, found guilty, and executed for war crimes. Reputedly a very intense woman, reclusive but (on the rare occasions she took part in politics) forceful and somewhat abrasive. Her legacy is not a pleasant one; Isa was particularly baffled to find that a number of spirits with ties to Ardeleth and the surrounding nations hold a grudge against her. She remembers herself as a victim of that war, not the perpetrator.
The second influence, and by far the greater, is Chejop Kejak. For reasons he does not disclose, he has taken a personal interest in Isa's education and training, more so than he has for any new Sidereal since Ayesha Ura. Why is the subject of considerable speculation among Heaven's denizens: Isa shows no unusual flair martial arts, or leadership, or sorcery, or anything else that would mark her as worthy of the elder Vizier's attention. She's a diligent student but not—by the standards of the Exalted—exceptional, except perhaps. A few think that, as with Ayesha Ura, the two are lovers; most believe there must be something more to it than that. Many have remarked upon her Caste, linking it to the rumors of Kejak's impending demise or weaving some other complicated plot. Whatever the truth, her long association has irrevocably tarred her with Chejop Kejak's reputation: his enemies are her enemies, his allies are at least polite to her, and even neutral parties are wary when dealing with her, for fear of being pulled into one of the Old Man's plots. Few believe she is more than a pawn; she is sometimes called Kejak's Shadow.
Isa herself does little to discourage this sort of thinking. She is content to play the humble neophyte, quiet and deferential to her elders. She rarely shares her thoughts; instead, her silences draw out others. She watches. She listens. Isa is patient; she knows she's young and has a lot to learn, and she intends to learn it, not waste time trying to make herself heard right now. For now… well, it's not such a bad thing to be overlooked sometimes. She often serves the Bronze Faction as a spy, both in Heaven and Creation.
Her Bronze beliefs are not as ardent as most believe, but she is genuinely loyal to Chejop Kejak as a person. He's is something of a second father to her; by now, she's spent more time with him than with her birth father. She may not agree with everything he's done, or even everything he plans to do… but she can tell he's opened up to her more than he has in a long time, and she's not going to betray that confidence. (Even when she sees the shadow of the Halta-Linowan War in the feud between factions.)
Not even Isa is sure what Kejak plans for her. If he wanted a successor, she thinks he must be a little disappointed: she's not the leader he is. Maybe in a few hundred years she could make the attempt, but there isn't enough time to groom her properly for that kind of position and they both know it. She suspects he simply wants someone he can trust, someone without any outside loyalties or ulterior motives… and maybe someone who can set his affairs in order after he's gone.
Craft (water) ●
●●●●● (while unarmored ●●●)
Linguistics ●●●● (Forest-tongue (native), Old Realm, Low Realm, High Realm, Riverspeak)
Performance ● (prayer ●●)
Socialize ●●●● (subterfuge ●)
Larceny ● (disguise ●)
●●●●● (staff-fighting ●●●)
Artifact ●● (dragon tear tiara)
Artifact ● (fivefold harmonic adapter)
Artifact ●● (hearthstone bracers)
Artifact ●● (silken armor)
Backing ● (Bronze Faction)
Celestial Manse ●● (gem of omens)
Connections (Forbidding Manse of Ivy) ●
Manse ●● (gemstone of surface thoughts)
Mentor ●●●● (Chejop Kejak)
The Gull ●
The Pillar ●
The Mask ●
The Rising Smoke ●●
The Sword ●●
Ragara Soras Maren (young Dynast; resplendent destiny of the Rising Smoke; Duration 1, Endurance 1, Scope 2)
Red Lil (footloose wanderer; resplendent destiny of the Gull; Duration 0, Endurance 1, Scope 2)
Artifacts and Equipment
Jade dragon tear tiara
Jade hearthstone bracers (with fivefold harmonic adapter)
Warding talisman against the walking dead (-3 internal penalty to actions that affect her)
Exceptional staff (+1 accuracy, +1 damage, +1 Rate)
Exceptional sling (+1 accuracy, +1 damage, +10 range)
Adopting the Untamed Face
Second Dodge Excellency
Heart-Brightening Presentation Style
Efficient Secretary Technique
Methodology of Secrets
Second Stealth Excellency
Soft Presence Practice
Second Bureaucracy Excellency
Underling Invisibility Practice
Second Integrity Excellency
First Martial Arts Excellency
Violet Bier of Sorrows Style
Secrets of Future Strife
Throne Shadow Style
Lotus Eye Tactics
Sifu's Useful Fingers
Lion Mouse Stratagem
Dodge DV 9
Parry DV 8
: 3B/1L (6B/6L with silken armor)
-0 [ ][ ][ ]
-1 [ ][ ]
-2 [ ][ ]
-4 [ ]
-X [ ]
Dodge MDV 7
Parry MDV 2
Reckoner's Flawed Fate
Chejop Kejak (loyalty)
The dead (respect)
The Incarnae (reverence)
Linowan (distant affection)
Solar/Lunar Exalts (mistrust)
Burning Waters (smitten)
Personal: 8/14 (6 committed; Prior Warning)
Peripheral: 18/32 (14 committed; 2 silk, 4 bracers, 2 tiara, 3 Lotus Eye Tactics, 3 Lion Mouse Stratagem)
Willpower +5 (5)
Virtues +1 (1)
Abilities +13 (13)
6 specialties (3)
Lion Mouse Stratagem (3)
Prior Warning (3)
Expected Pain (3)
Mentor +4 (5)
0 spent/12 earned
Avatar by Kasanip; see her sketchbook here
Last edited by The_Snark : 11-20-2012 at 04:58 AM.